The PR “profession,” crowdsourcing and @SenJohnMcCain

I’m too busy for serious blogging this week, so chomp on these random nuggets on how social media are affecting our lives:

mccain@SenJohnMcCain has over 180,000 followers on Twitter. The Senator isn’t big on conversation, but that’s not why he’s using the world’s hottest social network. For McCain, Twitter is a broadcasting tool for hammering home messages about pork-barrel spending in Washington. His tweets are crisp and his messages are clear.

Some say McCain doesn’t get social media. I mean, where’s the conversation? Fact is, conversation doesn’t fit McCain’s strategy for this campaign. He’s using Twitter as he would the mainstream media: to create awareness/buzz about his positions and to galvanize support. And it seems to be working.

If the social media animal is, indeed, self-regulating, then who is to say McCain is breaking the rules? His one-way campaign on our favorite 2-way network isn’t right or wrong. It just is.

But do you think McCain is actually writing all those tweets himself? Or does he get help from a ghostwriter on his staff? Oh, the horrors!

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Flack Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) from "The Sweet Smell of Success"

Flack Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) from "The Sweet Smell of Success"

Is PR a profession? My recent posts on the ghostwriting issue (scroll down to the last two) have me wondering why so many in social media so deeply distrust public relations. The answer is pretty obvious: Many of them never met a true PR professional — if there is such a thing — and here’s why:

Even bottom feeders like Sidney Falco are free to call themselves “public relations” practitioners. There’s NO BARRIER WHATSOEVER to entering this business. For every successful professional dedicated to building 2-way communication and trust, there’s a “flack” who focuses on press agentry and spin. (Aside: I wonder if those who use the term “flack” so freely in their blogs and chatter understand or care about the word’s pejorative nature.)

I’m not gonna worry about any of this. After all, social media is a self-regulating world governed by the wisdom of crowds. The marketplace will ensure that higher truth prevails. Thank goodness our business leaders understand this, too. Just yesterday, a top executive/lawyer for Procter &  Gamble assured us all that self-regulation of advertising and marketing messages is all that’s required to ensure honesty and candor. (Thanks to Guhmshoo for the link and the toon.)

Why am I not comforted when a Fortune 500 giant says, in effect, “Trust us, we’ll get it right”?

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The wisdom of crowds. As newspapers and other newsgathering organizations struggle to survive, more people are getting their news from the online grapevine. Links passed via email, blogs and social networks are the ONLY connection some people have to world events.

Does this worry you? I’m NOT one who trusts the wisdom of crowds, and I felt that long before Brian Connolly said the same thing during his interview here. You see, I very much need the trained news professionals who help me interpret the world. My online friends and colleagues don’t have the time or the knowledge to do that.

delfinateeAs I drafted this paragraph last week, the story with the most votes on Digg involved a California pizza shop that makes its workers wear t-shirts featuring bad Yelp reviews. A brilliant marketing gimmick, to be sure. But news?

Maybe crowdsourcing works for you. But I really don’t want my news with peperoni and mushrooms.


Thanks to Karen Russell at UGa for including me in her “Meet the Teacher” profile at Teaching Public Relations. I see no one has posted a comment yet. Probably a good thing!


9 Responses to The PR “profession,” crowdsourcing and @SenJohnMcCain

  1. David32767 says:

    Well here we go again. Agreeing to disagree. I just posted yesterday a correction comment to our previous discussion.( ) Yes ,I finally agree, we need news professionals. However, one man’s tabloid fodder is another’s vital news. Like it or not and yes, this may dumb some of us down. I think we personally should be free to choose between vital nuances to TARP legislation and Pizza workers with Yelp ads on their shirts as our interesting news item for the day. I think we differ on the definition of news which is ok don’t you think as long as there are professionals vetting the ‘real’ news and it is freely available to all. This smorgasbord of ‘news information’ would include crowd sourced ‘stuff’. The fact that many people ONLY get news from the electronic grapevine is just the way of the world right or wrong. How do you stop people from using those sole email, blogs and social networks connections for news? The same way you stop teens from drinking I guess…

  2. Tim Roberts says:

    Wow, I learn something new every time I read your blog, Bill! I checked out the McCain links and was stunned to learn he was doing it himself. I thought for sure he had a staffer ghostwriting – or ghostweeting – them. Kinda of an interesting glimpse into his schedule.

  3. Bill Sledzik says:

    He probably is punching the keys, Tim. But we all know he hasn’t time to do all that research or to craft all those pithy <140 messages. And don’t you wonder how he got so proficient on the Blackberry after admitting he doesn’t even use email? Don’t you wonder if he’s simply copying-and-pasting from text messages sent by staffers?

    Setting aside skepticism, we can be certain the Senator has a staff of professionals helping him develop the social media strategy and messages. Busy and intelligent executives do that — part of the reason we all have jobs.

    I specifically excluded Twitter from my ghostwriting guidelines, as real time conversation really can’t be delegated. But in McCain’s case, it’s not a conversation at all. It’s kind of like — well — like advertising. I think David Ogilvy would approve, don’t you?

    Thanks for dropping by. I see you more F2F than on the blog these days. Maybe that’s a good thing!

  4. Bill Sledzik says:


    I’m not suggesting we usurp anyone’s freedom to consume any online content they’d like. I simply said that many of us prefer to have a professional editor do the aggregating for us.

    But once everyone stops using the traditional newsgathering organizations, they will cease to exist. Then who’s gonna keep us informed? Who will generate the content that all my friends love to send via email, tweet and Facebook link. Can the Twitterati do that for us?

    Will crowdsourcing “dumb some of us down,” as you suggest? No more so than before Web 2.0. But it does distract us from the kinds of news we “need to know.” And like it or not, TARP legislation affects my life. A pizzeria in San Francisco does not. And I don’t think I saw a single TARP story posted to Digg that day.

  5. Bill Huey says:

    RE: Sidney Falco, he wouldn’t claim to be a “public relations practitioner.” The handmade sign taped to his door read, “Sidney Falco Publicity,” and he regarded himself as a publicist, period.
    I think the problem of professionalism goes back to the definition of PR you were working to develop a while back. Without a commonly accepted definition of PR, then PR is whatever PR people do–whether it’s lobbying or event planning or strategy and management.
    It’s like a hedge fund calling itself an investment bank. Only a handful of people know what an investment bank really does, and you don’t need a special license to be an investment bank, so why not call yourself an investment bank?

  6. marketingsociologist says:

    Bless you. We need someone to ride a horse like Paul Revere with this message, “There’s NO BARRIER WHATSOEVER to entering this business.”

    I grew up when employers wouldn’t hire you until you had 10 years media experience. Not today. An MBA and 30+ years is a detriment. Hire an intern!

  7. David32767 says:

    I am agreeing with you. I just said we are all free to choose what IS news and what isn’t on a personal level. YES, we also need a professional editors to do the aggregating for us. Here is the rub: HOW do we keep traditional newsgathering organizations alive? Commies do it by state ownned firms. I would hate for the US Government to own CitiBank AND the WSJ. I don’t have answers. As I suggested earlier, maybe we have to instill in our youth the need for this the same way we do about responsible alcohol consumption for example. Meanwhile the traditionals are on the ropes. In the end I believe that the medium in which news is delivered has and will continue to change and the traditionals cannot expect to keep the presses running as the Pony Express drivers expected to keep mounting horses. Here is an article intitled “10 Ways Newspapers are Using Social Media to Save the Industry” Thoughts?

  8. Hey, Bill, you’re no longer comment-less. You can rest easy now. 😛

  9. David32767 says:

    OMG I just had a Sledzik moment. Is the best we have to offer in Jon Stewart as the lead investigative journalist on this financial crap? Good Lord! Bill, you are right I was seduced by the 2.0 world !! I hope you have been following the story. I take back everything I have previously posted. In the words of Dana Carvey: ” NEVERMIND ”

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